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Beloved Cliffside locomotive being restored

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Cliffside's 110 locomotive.

(Angela Bendord Jamison wrote portions of this story, published some years ago in Carolina Country. The story is relevant today as the New Hope Valley Railway celebration the weekend of April 20 and April 21 includes an exhibit of Cliffside Railroad 110. Jamison runs Communicopia Marketing Services in Wake Forest.)

The New Hope Valley Railway (NHVR) in Bonsal acquired the historic steam locomotive, "Cliffside Railroad 110," about a decade ago and is in the process of restoring it. The steam locomotive was in residence at Stone Mountain Park, Ga. for about 60 years, before it was returned to North Carolina. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which manages the park, gave this old-time engine to NHVR located in Bonsal, below Apex in southwestern Wake County.

Cliffside historian Phillip White said several members in the Cliffside Historical Society have been to Bonsal several times and participated in various activities regarding Cliffside's 110.

"Covid has slowed the restoration, but it is ongoing currently," White said.

White is the contact person with leaders of the restoration team and is in regular conversation with them regarding the restoration. The restoration team came to Cliffside several years ago and presented a program for the Gathering on Cliffside Day.

The engine - numbered 110 and affectionately called "Old Puffer" by the train crews who ran it down the three-mile Cliffside Railway - served the town of Cliffside. From its beginnings in the early 1900s, it hauled supplies for town residents from nearby junctions, sent finished products to connecting railways and brought in raw materials to Cliffside Mills, the South's largest gingham textile plant. The train carried passengers in and out of Cliffside and even picked up school children on their way back to the schoolhouse during its mid-day run into Cliffside.

The most famous passengers on the Cliffside 110 were a family of chickens who took its first ride in the early 1930s just as the train was nearing Cliffside Junction. One of the engineers spotted a hen and three chicks on the tracks, stopped the train and loaded them on board. The family of chickens must have enjoyed that first ride because for years after when the whistle sounded they would scurry up to the train to board and then hop back off to scratch and peck around the yards as the train stopped or pulled into the shop between runs.

The train was an integral part of the communities. She carried school children as well as freight, historians say. Cliffside school students who lived along the right-of-way often went home for lunch. As the train returned from its morning run, the engineer picked the children up and gave them a ride back to school.

As automobiles became a more popular mode of transportation for passengers, the Cliffside 110 continued to carry freight until it was retired and replaced by a more modern diesel engine in 1962.

"As New Hope Valley Railway celebrates our 30th anniversary," said NHVR president Mike MacLean, "it's only fitting to bring a steam engine with such rich North Carolina history back to its original glory".

A dedicated team of NHVR volunteers has been restoring and running trains since 1983.

The NHVR shares a similar history to that of Cliffside's. Both railways were organized in the early 1900s and their short tracks were used to carry materials and some passenger cars from North Carolina mills to connecting rail lines. While the Cliffside freight cars were hauling textiles, the NHVR's were running timber along with other supplies like cotton, corn, beans and tobacco.

NHVR will restore the historic steam engine so it can operate on the 4-mile main line used by the railway for public ride days, generally held the first Sunday of each month beginning in April and running through the end of the year. The restoration effort will take five to seven years and cost an estimated $350,000 to $600,000, which will be funded exclusively through the generosity of members and donors.

NHVR, operated by the North Carolina Railway Museum, Inc. (NCRM), is celebrating a number of significant milestones during the 2024 season.

On Saturday, April 20, and Sunday, April 21, visitors will have an opportunity to see exhibits, such as the Cliffside Railroad 110 and will have an opportunity to ride some of other the trains.

Guests will be taken back to the golden age of train travel with a variety of engaging activities and attractions.

According to the website Steam Locomotive 110, it is truly a historical treasure. Built on an assembly line at Vulcan Iron Works in 1827, many of the components were made by the craftsmen of their day.

The plan is to retire the locomotive to operating condition within 6 to 10 years.

In 2027, locomotive 110 will be 100 years old, and the goal is to have most of the funding available by that time, and significant progress made in the restoration.

For more information on the Cliffside 110 and for train tickets to the 40th year celebration at New Hope Valley Railway visit www.triangletrain.com

Donations can be sent to: North Carolina Railway Inc. PO Box 40, New Hill, NC 27562.

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